What Leaders are Learning

Leaders Talk

Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. This past week, the calendars flipped from February to March reminding me of the expression, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb,” a weather expression. The terminology harkens back to early Americana when settlers complained of biting winter weather in early March giving way to spring weather by April. The expression has even deeper roots going back to ancient times when it spoke to the constellation Leo, a lion-shaped star cluster, appearing in the night sky early MarchWhat-leaders-care-about-final_001 with Aries (a ram) appearing on the horizon late March. For Leadership Spokane and for the present, the expression reminds us of the importance that leaders speak up!
America’s origins stem from the fact that our founding fathers finally had enough and spoke up against England and autocratic rule. It is part of our American DNA to “speak up” but that does mean that speaking up is ever easy. We live in a culture where acceptance is key and speaking up risks disapproval of others. We also seek to avoid conflict so staying quiet can be the easier path. Yet, leaders must guide the ship and that direction needs to come from voice.
Leadership consultant Terri Klass reminds us in her September 2014 article “Impactful Leaders Speak Up Not Down” that in addition to speaking up, leaders need to add value to the conversation. This is particularly important point to ponder in our increasingly divisive society. She offers that leaders need always look for commonalities of positions between parties, use an empathetic ‘voice’ and stay focused on issues rather than personalities. Clearly, how we speak sets the tone which will either persuades or not. “Speaking up to others” is the tone which gives the best chance for positive change.
While leaders with voice set the tone, followers with voice is a powerful result as well. “Yes people” will not advance a leader’s purpose. Athletes grow when challenged physically. Leaders likewise grow and perform better when challenged by those they lead. Tony Richards in his article “Leaders Must Encourage Others To Speak Up” notes that leaders must always share information, thereby generating trust within an organization. Leaders must not shoot down ideas of followers and certainly they must show appreciation for candid talk thus encouraging further candid conversation. Richards sums up the power of the leader’s voice AND the follower’s voice by saying: “After considering what you’ve read today, I ask you to set aside time to evaluate the areas in life that are most precious, and then begin to share your thoughts with those closest to you. Take baby steps at first, and then begin to expand your efforts. As you speak up, both you and those around you will be all the better for it. The change produced from this one practice is some of the most powerful and positive there is.”
Whether the leader is introverted or extroverted, leaders move their organization forward by communicating…yes, they ‘talk’ in some form or fashion. Stated another way, persuasion is a critical servant leadership characteristic taught in Leadership Spokane. This month of March, I am reminded that leaders need not necessarily ‘roar’ like a lion to create the change they want. Indeed, much of the leadership literature affirms how important it is for leaders to use positive messaging and that the best result of all is creating a culture where the followers also feel free to talk and contribute.
So, leaders talk and so do followers and when each listens to the other, an organization’s synergy can increase exponentially. Winston Churchill said it best: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” May we always be courageous in March and every other month of the year. In short, leaders talk and they also listen!